Burnout is really just a fancy type of depression. It manifests with all the usual nasties. For me it was poor sleep, panic attacks, lack of energy, decreased productivity, moodiness and an inability to stop thinking about work issues. In retrospect, it had been going on for over a year, with the last 6 months being a living hell, where dragging myself out of bed and to work was a nightmare. I knew I was stressed, I knew I wasn't coping, but I couldn't see a way out. You know, everyone depended on me etc etc etc.
Well lucky for me I had long service leave coming up, and circumstances at work conspired to create a "straw that broke the camel's back" situation. I was so angry with the situation that it gave me the impetus to say enough was enough and apply for LSL plus some extra leave without pay. My employers were actually completely supportive of my plans (I had been honest about my mental state) and have told me to take as much leave as I need. So I have.
That's when the wheels fell off!
It's not until you actually get off the merry-go-around that your body and mind do the falling apart. We've all gone on a hard earned holiday only to come down with the flu 2 days in and spent half the time asleep in bed. Well this was like that only it lasts alot longer than the obligatory 5 days. The energy levels dropped so low I couldn't get out of bed, couldn't cook, just ate convenience food, and drank alot of alcohol. And worst of all, I felt so guilty for feeling so bad!! In the middle of all this I took a quick vacation over to Sydney and stayed with friends on the north coast. I was so low and uncommunicative they thought they had done something wrong.
I had to field alot of questions from friends and aquaintances about what I was doing with my time off. I would tell them I was recovering. Most friends were very supportive, but some had no concept of the hell I was going through and couldn't understand why I wasn't gallivanting off around the world with my newfound freedom. In my mind, I needed to find the energy before I could have that freedom.
After I stopped feeling guilty, I began to recover. I'm not there yet by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm on the right road. I'm taking my time and savouring each day as it comes. And I can start planning for that great holiday afterall.
Could I have prevented it? That's a difficult one. I think some people have the sort of personality that push themselves and push themselves, ignore the signs that they're not coping (I did), and just fall off the cliff. I've spoken to quite a few people about their experiences and I have no answers.
As they say, the retrospectoscope is a marvellous instrument.